- - Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Unlike Sarah Palin or Tina Fey, or whoever it was, I really can see Russia from my front porch. Or, at least, I can see broken-down socialism.

That is because across the street from my house on Capitol Hill is a loud, clanging “Capital Bikeshare” docking station. It is one of the locking ports for those fat, red communal bicycles you see peddled all over town by commune enthusiasts. (Say that fast, and it sounds like you are saying “commun-ists.”)

For a small membership fee, users can pick up a bike at any of 165 such docking stations and proudly pedal themselves to work, school or to pick up Chinese food. The little black wire basket on the front is sturdy enough to carry a briefcase or a carry-out order of tofu. The bikes are shaped like the old-timey “girl bikes” without the crossbar, making them suitable for un-liberated women in skirts as well as these so-called “metrosexual” males everybody keeps talking about in these parts.

For the urban environmental warrior (who, curiously, chooses to live in a densely populated concrete city), the benefits of the communal bike program are endless.

Having people pedal around on these bikes, they say, means fewer people riding pollution-emitting city buses and fewer cars clogging the roads. And healthy riders means less of a burden on socialized medicine. These people get very excited talking about all the upsides.

Oh, and the smugness with which these pedaling heroes pump away! I have seen proud drivers of Priuses look away in shame as they ease by in their bio-electric and sometimes spontaneously combustible vehicles.

This communal bike program is a success from their tingling toes through their throbbing hearts all the way to bright, gleaming faces. It makes them feel so good!

But there are problems.

The most obvious one is that you can check out a bike and pedal yourself anywhere your heart desires — so long as it happens to have a docking station for your bike. (The bikes don’t come with locks, and these geniuses haven’t yet eliminated bike theft — even of crappy, fat red ones.)

If your destination just so happens to have a handy-dandy bike-docking station, you better get there early or hope that not everybody is going in the same direction at the same time. Such as what we happen to call “rush hour,” which only occurs every single weekday, twice a day.

So, what happens is, these noble warriors ride their bikes to work in the morning, only to discover that so has everybody else. And all the docking stations are filled up. So they have to wander around in search of a place to dock their bike so they can get to work.

This leads to another problem where all the bikes end up in a concentration of places. So at the end of the day, a belching environment-killing truck must come around and redistribute the bikes.

After early complaints about this problem, central planners did what central planners do. The program didn’t need to be eliminated. It needed to be — made bigger.

So far, after the latest expansion, the whole scheme has cost taxpayers more than $8 million. Much of that comes from federal taxpayers, so you, too, can take pride in this.

My personal pride in the program reached a new level last week after reading about a woman in my neighborhood who was talking on her cellular phone. A thug rode by on a bike, slapped her and swiped her phone.

And proudly pedaled away on the big, fat, red Capital Bikeshare bicycle.

Charles Hurt can be reached at charleshurt@live.com

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